March 1, 2021
Nine years ago this month, I had just opened a coworking space in a small unremodeled brick-and-beam office building a hop south of Trinity-Bellwoods Park. We filled it with watermelon-hued steel tables, assembled a tiny IKEA kitchen, and appreciated the view of the CN Tower over the neighboring car mechanic shop that would later be razed for multimillion-dollar townhouses. Friends painted a 40-foot whiteboard wall, sewed matching curtains, wired the lights and donated coffee mugs. Space! Our own four walls, for making games, jam, beer, friends, and bonds with a city and art scene that seemed eager to recognize the cultural contributions of emerging game designers. It felt like a secret hideout, and every newcomer felt pride at spotting the narrow walkway down the leafy brick corridor and emerging in a magical place they instantly knew they belonged.
DMG – and so many members who are here to this day, working in or alongside the industry and giving back to the community still – came into my life that month. As our events swelled from 10 or 15 people to 75 or 100, and I met more and more artists looking for tools for the way they wanted to create, I saw the gaps, the frictions, the anxieties and institutional walls that kept them out and down and feeling like they didn’t belong. I meant to help out for a year or so; but you all kept me for 8 more.
I fell into this role by “working in a spiral” as DMG co-founder Cecily Carver would say, when explaining the best way to approach a game jam project. Spot the holes and patch them; radiate out; weave a community out of new relationships centred on a shared experience of seeing the possibilities plainly and critiquing and questioning together. Passing comments evolved into programs and collaborations and games and plans for survival. There were no rules, no rubric for deciding what kinds of workshops and events we’d hold. It was wild and fun and we were together. A shared language around what DMG is emerged – there because we wanted it to be, not because we felt an obligation to fix an industry or change ourselves for it.
This kind of organization needs careful and constant tending and all senses tuned to the real – material, emotional, social – needs of the communities it serves. In DMG’s delightfully chaotic first three years at the space on Richmond Street, where something was happening almost every single night of the week, we established an organization that was responsive, collaborative, that always said “yes, let's try that” in a world of “no”s and silence. Indebted to artist-run culture and feminist DIY spaces but also making our own way.
As we moved through physical spaces – first to the ground floor of the building we shared with Gamma Space, and later to our own 1,400 sq. ft. studio within the Toronto Media Arts Centre – the critiques central to our mandate came into sharper focus. How could we key our activities to our politics, with the way we supported our members collectively and individually? Should we use our growing resources and access to expand our work or refine it and focus on the community that was already there? How big or small should we be?
The possibilities are so exciting to me. DMG has never been more needed by the industry, more cherished by its community or better positioned for radical impact than it is now.
I’ve seen the board of DMG stretch and grow and create so much good; members and program participants take on challenging leadership and community roles; and our purpose come into diamond-sharp focus. Over this last year, I’ve thought a lot about these questions and who should answer them. I was somehow both saddened and thrilled to realize that it’s not me!
I could not have asked for a better community to hold me; I’ve learned and grown so much alongside you. To each current and past board member, community leader, mentor and member: Thank you for the life you have given me. I will fight for space for you always.
There is one person with whom I have worked the longest and most intensely at DMG: Izzie Colpitts-Campbell. I’m tremendously delighted that she is DMG’s next executive director. I have seen up close the depths of her creativity, intuition and respect for our community and mission in action. DMG will only thrive and increase its impact under her leadership.
Over the next few months, I will be working closely with the board in a strategic advisory role as the org explores structural shifts to better align DMG’s work with our members’ needs in the coming years. I’ll also continue to lead the Damage Labs program as we wrap up the first cohort and launch new tools to put financial sustainability within reach of marginalized creators and founders.
I’m so privileged to have had the opportunity to see this organization evolve from scrappy to scrappy and flourishing; to step aside and create more space for leadership and change in a moment of profound growth. I can’t wait to see the world you’ll make.
– Jennie Robinson Faber